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OpenGov Voices: Bring That Lantern Over Here: Why Budget Transparency Matters

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Sunlight Foundation or any employee thereof. Sunlight Foundation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the Rodney Brentguest blog.

Rodney Bent is a U.S. Advisory Committee Member of Publish What You Fund -- a global campaign for aid transparency. He spent most of his career with the US government, including more than 20 years with the Office of Management Budget, as well as time at the State Department and the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Over the past 18 years, the American public told pollsters they believe the U.S. government spends way too much on foreign aid, reckoning that something like a fifth or a quarter of the federal budget is used for that purpose.

That, of course, is not true. It’s really “just” one percent of the budget, or more than $50 billion. That’s still a lot of money. Senator Everett Dirksen might never have said “a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money,” but here we are talking real money. What does the U.S. taxpayer get for that $50 billion?

It’s hard to know. It should not be.

On January 21, 2009, President Obama said his Administration was committed “to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.” I’d wager that he has done just that – the frontier of knowledge and the boundaries of available data have been pushed out. It is unprecedented, and for that, two cheers.

The Administration needs to do more to earn that third cheer. Unprecedented doesn’t mean good enough.

Publish What You FundSy Syms, the legendary discounter, had it right: “An educated consumer is our best customer.” Transparency in all government spending is essential but transparency in foreign assistance spending is critical. Foreign aid spending is never popular in Congress. American taxpayers, with respect to foreign aid, are neither educated consumers nor good customers. The executive branch should help in the education by being much more transparent in what it does with foreign assistance.

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